Checkin’ In: Helena Hultman – The smile on the other end of the phone
What is the strangest question Helena Hultman, head of customer service, has ever had? In how much detail must she be able to describe the pancakes served at the hotels? And can she still hear the caller when waiting music is played? Please hold (and keep reading!) to find out more.
Helena Ingrid Hultman, Operations Manager at Customer Interaction Center, has worked at Nordic Choice Hotels for 18 years, and 11 years in customer service. She is known for her love of spa hotels, her ability to see things from the guest's perspective, and her infectious laughter. Anyone reading this can be assured that she laughs at some point for almost every answer. Unless it’s about hotel pillows. Then she's dead serious.
How many inquiries do you actually get at customer service?
– We get around 850,000 inquiries in total in one year. The phone is the largest channel, because there are still many who call in to book a stay, while the chat is the channel that is increasing the most.
A little tip is to use the online chat! It is usually fastest.
Do you always have to say the same thing when you answer the phone?
– We have guidelines we must keep to, but it is important that there is a good rapport between you and the guest. We want our personality to shine through, and for us to be able to joke with the guest and not just say things we have to say.
Do you have any funny stories to share?
– There was one woman I worked with at customer service who had a daughter who called every day. Several times I heard this mother say to her daughter that she called too much, and once she answered a guest saying "Welcome to customer service, but you’re really calling too much now". The guest answered ‘I’m very sorry, I’ll keep it short.’
One time, I called a guest back and he answered and said ‘hang on, I’m just going to die first’. I didn't know what he was doing, but it turned out he was playing some game.
Then we had one guest who whispered his card number backwards because he was sitting on the train and didn't want anyone to understand what he was doing.
Another guest was going to book a room for himself and a colleague whose surname was Schäfer, which is what we call German Shepherds. So my colleague asked if his name was spelt like the dog, and the guest replied: ‘Yes, if your dog is also called Rolf.’
A colleague once asked a guest what her last name was, and she answered ‘Iceberg, like the thing the Titanic ran into.’
“At one time we had an advertising campaign online where there was a picture of a cow lying on a bed, and then we got a phone call from a guest who wanted the cow in the room."
Have you got any weird complaints or questions you have had to answer?
– At the start of my career, I received a complaint that our porn channels were no good," laughs Helena. “I think it was a brave complaint to make, and we have to take such complaints seriously too, and solve the problem like any other problem.
Once there was someone calling and wondering how the pancakes were. If they were thick or thin, and whether they had crispy edges or if were they soft. Another time, someone who wanted to tell us that he thought the bacon was more boiled than fried.
How much do you know about the person calling?
– If you call from your mobile number and you are a member of Nordic Choice Club, we get your profile from the customer database. Then we can see your address, phone number, email, your last visits with us, and how you prefer to communicate with us. We only know what you have stated on your profile.
Why do you sometimes have to wait in a queue when calling? Is it because you are having lunch?
– Haha! No, we take turns having lunch breaks. GOLD and PLATINUM members always have priority when contacting us, whether it’s by email or telephone. Otherwise, we have ‘overflow’, as we call it, between the countries, so that sometimes it is someone at the Norwegian headquarters who answers a Swedish caller, and sometimes someone at the Swedish headquarters responds to Norwegians. The guest should not be kept waiting longer than necessary.
How much do you know about the hotels you recommend to guests?
– An incredible amount! We at customer service can test/sleep at any hotel that guests can book with us. We must try the products we sell. In addition, we have detailed information about each hotel, so that we have answers to when breakfast is served, how large the rooms are, what is in the individual rooms, whether it is allowed to bring a dog or whether the hotel has a pool and so on.
Farris Bad – Helena Hultmans favorite hotel
When you are in a conversation with a guest and you put them on hold and turn on the waiting music – can you still hear the guest then?
– Yes, haha! We can hear everything you say so don't say anything stupid!
How do you employ people?
– We have actually tried something new now! Everyone who has applied for a job with us has been invited on a ‘speed date’ – without us having gone through their CV and application first. All the applicants are given 10 minutes each. After the speed date we go through their CVs and applications and invite the relevant candidates for more in-depth interviews.
I think it's a great way to recruit new employees, because otherwise it's easy to make up your mind about someone based solely on their CV. When you actually meet the applicant, you can see completely different aspects of them, and I think that is more important than just the things they have written in their CV.
Are there any things that are easier for guests to do themselves digitally instead of contacting you?
– It's easier to download the app and book hotels there. It is easy to order there, and you can add a business agreement or membership fee there. There are still many who call us to book hotels, but it is faster to do so in the app or on the web, rather than waiting to get through on the phone. And of course you can just call or chat with us if you need help with anything.
Still you haven’t experienced our wonderful customer services? Get in touch!
6 quickies with Helena Hultman
Favourite hotel? Farris bad! I love spas and it is the best spa hotel.
The best thing about staying at a hotel? Hotel breakfast. I eat way too many tasty things.
The worst thing about staying at a hotel? That there is not always a large selection of pillows. Some people love those large, luxurious pillows, while certain other people like small, flat pillows.
If you could choose, who would you like to meet in a hotel lift? Oprah Winfrey. I would ask her about how her successful career has been and what she must have gone through as a black woman.
What do you always eat at the hotel breakfast? Cottage cheese and scrambled eggs.
Do you have any strange habits when travelling? I always bring my own pillow! It is flat and fits perfectly into the upper part of my trolley bag.